Texas Legislature: Consequences of Low Pay, Part-Time Nature, & Other Characteristics

States with part-time legislatures that have low pay and few legislative staff, like Texas, spend less than those with full-time, well-paid, professional legislatures supported by large staff sizes and professional or hybrid legislatures, which meet more frequently than part-time legislatures, has better pay (but still not enough to be a legislator’s only source of income).  However, low levels of state spending in Texas have contributed to increases in spending and debt amongst local governments.

The Texas Legislature manages to pass a lot of bills during its short regular session:

In 2015, it sent 1,322 bills to Governor Abbott’s desk. California, by comparison, passed 807 bills all year. In Roll Call’s state-by-state comparison of bills and resolutions passed during the 2013–14 Congress, Texas was far and away the numerical leader. (Cassidy, 2016)

However, many of these laws are trivial, in large part due to the balanced budget requirement and other constitutional limitations placed on the Texas Legislature.  On the one hand, this limits government failure and is largely responsible for Texas’s economic success.  On the other hand, this may negatively affect the Texas Legislature’s ability to address increasingly complex problems, such as rising pension debts.

Low pay and the part-time nature of the Texas Legislature may also lead to electing officials who may not necessarily understand the needs of the majority of their constituents.  “Serving in the Texas legislature isn’t a realistic job option for most working professionals . . . it’s too time-consuming to be a side job” (Cassidy, 2016).  The lack of sociodemographic similarity between state legislators and the people they represent can be an area of concern to the extent that descriptive representation influences lawmaking in Texas.  For certain policy issues, legislators may not know what constituent needs, interests, and preferences are — there may not be a clear consensus among constituents, or we may not have a good way to measure these needs, interests, and preferences.

Given that several thousand bills must be introduced and considered within 140 days, state legislators often rely on external, readily available information — and, in most cases, that information comes from lobbyists and special interests, not the public (who have low levels of civic engagement and are unlikely to contact their elected representatives).  The close relationship between the Texas Legislature and lobbyists is reflected in various characteristics, including the robust revolving door phenomenon in Texas, in which legislators leave public service and become full-time lobbyists, and the pervasiveness of cronyism.

Turnover in the Texas Legislature is high; around 20 percent of state legislators do not seek reelection during the following term.  For many, the Texas Legislature is a stepping stone on the way to the Texas plural executive or the U.S. Congress.  This results in a legislative body with less specialized knowledge and expertise, which in turn reinforces the need to rely on outside sources for important information.